The pujari floor of ISKCON’s flagship center, the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium, is set to open on February 13th, 2020. With this milestone achievement comes a rush of exciting construction developments that herald the grand opening of the temple and installation of the Deities in 2022.
At 100,000 square feet, fundraising director Braja Vilas Das claims the pujari floor will be “the largest pujari space in the world.” It will include every facility needed to serve Sri Sri Radha Madhava, Pancha Tattva and Lord Nrsimhadeva. Among these will be huge rooms storing the Deities’ outfits and jewelry; a garland room; a Deity kitchen and festival kitchen; festival preparation rooms; rooms for sewing Deity outfits; and pujari quarters.
The pujari floor will be situated between the utility floor, below it, and the temple floor, above. Built according to standards given by Mayapur head pujari Jananivasa Das, it will also incude many important technical aspects that ensure the safety, cleanliness, comfort and general smooth service of the Deities, such as an electrical system; light management system; fire fighting and security system; public address system; closed circuit television; water leak detection system; smoke detection system; air conditioning, etc.
The pujari floor will also feature an elevator up to the altar area, so that bhoga, outfits and more can be transported handily back and forth. “This temple is huge, and getting from one area to another can be difficult,” says chairman Ambarisa Das (Alfred B. Ford). “So we’re trying to make it as easy for the pujaris as possible.”
The opening ceremony for the new floor on February 13th next year is expected to be a major event, similar to the chakra installation last year, which included fire sacrifices, a parade, kirtan and prasadam. It will also be an opportunity for Ambarisa and other team members to drum up excitement about the grand opening date in 2022 during their speeches.
Meanwhile, construction work on the rest of the TOVP is accelerating rapidly, to give visitors for Gaura Purnima next year plenty to marvel at. A whole range of decorative embellishments are underway. On the exterior walls, these include intricate detailing on the columns, arches and sandstone Jaipuri windows. On the base of the domes, golden tilak designs and white embellishments are being added to the already unique blue tiled look, with its titanium nitrate stars, gold ribs, and 20-feet-in-diameter main chakra.
In the eight different chatris, or elevated pavilions, around the circumference of the temple, the floor and walls have been clad with marble, and the intricate window grills installed.
Both devotee artists and experts from the local town of Krishnanagar are building relief artwork of Lord Chaitanya and Lord Krishna’s pastimes, as well as sculptures of demigods and other figures from clay. Molds will then be made out of them, before they are cast in bronze.
Currently under construction using this method are four gigantic elephant sculptures – two on each side of the temple entrance – who will greet visitors coming up the main staircase. The elephant, known as hasti in Sanskrit, symbolizes wealth, strength, wisdom and royalty.
“We’re also working on twenty foot Jaya and Vijaya (the two gatekeepers to the Lord’s abode),” says Managing Director Sadbhuja Das. “They will be finished within a month and a half, and will stand on either side of the entrance to the temple room, just after the elephants.”
Work has also started on creating samples of the mosaic tiles that will make up the huge images of Gaura Nitai at the front of the temple.
Moving to the interior of the temple room, air ducting and electrical work is now being installed. A coffered ceiling to provide world-class acoustics as well as a classic renaissance look will begin to go up in December. Designs for Srila Prabhupada’s altar are being completed. And Bhakti Charu Swami is about to oversee the creation in Ujjain of fifteen lifesize murtis of the disciplic succession all the way from the Six Goswamis to Srila Prabhupada, who will be worshipped on one of the three main altars.
When completed, the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium, which was predicted by Nityananda Prabhu and Jiva Goswami and envioned in modern times by Srila Prabhupada, will be a beacon of Vedic wisdom, culture and spirituality to generations of seekers.
Standing 350 feet tall and covering 400,000 square feet, the TOVP will be one of the largest religious structures in the world. It will surpass the Taj Mahal, Hagia Sophia and St. Paul’s Cathedral, and will be three quarters the size of the Giza pyramid. The main temple hall alone will cover 1.5 acres and accommodate 10,000 people.
Capped by three domes topped with gold-plated Chakras, along with eight smaller chatris, the overall structure will blend modern architectural design with classic Vedic architecture.
The main dome will be the largest stainless steel dome of its kind in the world. Hanging within it like a beautiful chandelier will be a massive rotating model of our universe as depicted in ancient Vedic cosmological and astronomical scriptures.
Standing directly underneath the Vedic cosmology chandelier, and observed by lifesized murtis of demigods and goddesses placed throughout the temple, will be the 140-foot long, three-sectioned altar housing the Deities of the Gaudiya Vaishnava Guru Parampara, the Pancha Tattva, and Sri Sri Radha Madhava and the Ashta Sakhis.
The temple’s West Wing will house a 150-seat planetarium theater, which will screen a range of presentations on Vedic cosmology, philosophy and science. The East Wing will be a temple for Lord Nrsimhadeva and His loving devotee Prahlad Maharaja, situated on a magnificent marble and granite altar.
Staircases winding around the three upper levels of the temple room will offer visitors the opportunity to view exhibits and dioramas about Vedic history, science and cosmology, as well as study the incredible details of the Vedic universal structure up close. From the lower, middle and upper planetary systems, all the way to the transcendental realm of Goloka Vrindavan in the spiritual sky, visitors will become immersed in the Srimad-Bhagavatam’s depiction of the universe.
Eventually, the temple will also have forty-five landscaped acres adorned with luscious gardens and attractive walkways. These will be interwoven with water displays and fountains, yajna-shalas, gazebos and sitting areas, and will be surrounded by the residential quarters, ashrams, shops, restaurants and schools of the expanding Mayapur city.
All this will be achieved in multiple phases. The first phase will culminate with the Deities moving in and the grand opening of the temple floor in 2022.
The grand opening will be celebrated with five opening festivals over two months during the Gaura Purnima period (starting in mid January), to accommodate the vast number of devotees who will want to participate in such a historic occasion.
The first opening will see Lord Nrsimhadeva installed in His new temple for the protection of the devotees. During the second, the fifteen Guru Parampara Deities will be installed. On the third, Pancha Tattva, the main Deities of the TOVP, will move into Their new temple. On the fourth, Sri Sri Radha Madhava and Their Asta Sakhis will appear. And the fifth will be a special opening festival for VIPs. Each opening will be followed by ten days of cultural festivities.
“People are already starting to come because they’re hearing about the temple – a whole group from the United States visited the other day,” says Ambarisa Das. “So I envision that once the temple is opened, more and more people will come from all over India, Europe, America and beyond.”
Seeing the TOVP finally come to fruition is a special moment for Ambarisa, who has been working hard to realize it for his beloved Srila Prabhupada for decades.
“I feel that we’re honoring Prabhupada through this temple,” he says. “As we say every day, ‘all glories to Srila Prabhupada.’So all the glories of this temple really belong to Srila Prabhupada, who struggled so hard to bring us the gift of Krishna consciousness, especially in the beginning in New York when he had nothing. So we want to reciprocate with him by offering him this temple.”